In 1984 James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger teamed for the genre-defining action film The Terminator. A decade later they teamed up again in an attempt to fulfill the promise made on from the critically and commercially panned Last Action Hero, namely a satire of the action genre. And in typical Cameron fashion they succeed through a high-tempo script, over-the-top and memorable action scenes and a strong central pairing. In this case Arnie is joined by his in-film wife, the crowd-pleasing Jamie Lee Curtis.
Harry Tasker (Schwarzenegger) is a one-man wrecking ball of a secret agent. Able to kill countless enemies without a scratch, he keeps his professional life secret from his wife Helen (Curtis) and troublesome daughter Dana (Eliza Dushku). A series of mishaps leads to Helen slowly discovering the truth and she is slowly, but not without some testing, accepted by her husband and a useful ally in the ongoing war to capture Middle-Eastern terrorist Salim Abu Aziz (Art Malik).
Where other action films attempt to keep the script tight, portray the hero as a cold and ruthless killer and overload the action scenes, True Lies takes a different approach. Sure Cameron’s eye for a memorable action scene is never better illustrated than in a film that contains bombs, horse chases, gun fights and a harrier jump-jet, but where True Lies really deconstructs genre is in its gentle mockery of its leading man.
Schwarzenegger was at this time arguably the most recognizable leading man in all of Hollywood. His 100% top-notch adrenaline action films like Predator, The Terminator and Commando were behind him and his filmography had become littered with knockabout comedies like Twins and Kindergarten Cop. He needed another high quality film to remind audiences why they loved him in the first place. While True Lies‘ Harry is likeable enough, it could be argued that there is a streak of misogyny to him, especially in the middle of the film where he almost tortures his own wife to see how tough she is.
Still by the end we’re won over again, and in one of True Lies most memorable scenes he’s given truth serum and immediately starts describing how he is going to escape and kill all the guards, before proceeding to do exactly that. It’s classic Arnie.
A combination of Cameron’s action scene construction, Schwarzenegger’s casual send-up of almost every character he’d played for a decade and a great supporting cast lead by Curtis help make True Lies a truly fantastic film, even with its sometime sketchy treatment of women. Often forgotten alongside classics like Die Hard, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Lethal Weapon, True Lies deserves it’s recognition as one of the top action films of all time.